Anna Ferro

Blaser Mills Law

University: Royal Holloway, University of London
Degree: Music

Family and divorce is very much a people-focused area of law. Family and divorce lawyers deal with diverse legal issues including marriage, civil partnerships and unmarried couples, cohabitation, separation, divorce, financial claims and the now common pre and post nuptial/civil partnership agreements. Work on matters relating to children also form a big part of a family lawyer’s daily caseload. Family and divorce lawyers are often litigators, but also negotiate out-of-court settlements. Family law cases often grab the media headlines, particularly when they involve people with high wealth or high-profile personalities. While the role of a family lawyer calls for an astute legal mind, strong communication and pastoral skills are also needed to support clients through often difficult times.

A musical beginning to Anna Ferro’s academic career could have seen her focusing on pitch and tempo professionally; but instead, she found herself tapping along to the beat of law’s drum: “I did both a bachelor’s and master’s music degree, and was planning to go back for my doctorate when I gained some work experience as a solicitors’ clerk at the firm I’m still with. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to convert to law.”

Two years of the Common Professional Exam (now the GDL) and the Law Society Finals (now the LPC) later, and Anna was off to Blaser Mills LLP to do her articles (now the training contract). “Having finished, there was an opportunity to qualify into the family department; I haven’t looked back since!” she explains. “I have always worked on a broad range of cases in family law, but now I tend to specialise more in divorce and separation issues, and related financial matters, as well as pre-marital and cohabitation issues and private children matters.”

Anna gets a head start on the day by arriving at the office early to go through emails and post, and then getting down to business: “I will then be drafting documents and meeting with clients. I’m also involved with aspects that relate to the firm as a business, including marketing and business development, which regularly takes me into relationship building meetings with third parties, and other, sometimes glamourous events. My days never drag, as there is so much to fit in.”

Complex financial and emotional matters

For Anna, every day is tackled in the knowledge that “it is a privilege to help clients to find a way forward from what are often very difficult emotional and practical circumstances”. One case stands out in her memory for its speed and international dimensions: “I managed to secure an urgent international freezing order in a divorce case involving offshore assets, followed by a mirror order in the Royal Court of Jersey. It was pretty thrilling!” She also appreciates the “varied selection of circumstances and personalities, which make each day and every case interesting”.  

Anna reflects on one of her cases: “It raised issues straight from the high-profile Vince v Wyatt case, which had a lot of press coverage in 2015. This is essentially where the parties completed their divorce many years ago, but did not formally resolve their financial claims at the time and now issues have arisen which has led to one party bringing a claim. This could see adverse capital adjustments for my client, which might not have occurred had the case been resolved at the time of the divorce.”

“You need to be able to combine empathy with the ability to distance yourself from the emotion of a case”

Empathy required

As in all practice areas, it is essential for family lawyers to have a firm grounding in the relevant statutes and procedures, but Anna makes the point that they also need much more than that: “It is vital to strike a careful balance between compassion for clients who are often facing huge life changes, sometimes involving the breakdown of their relationships, and good common sense about the way in which the client should proceed practically. You need to be able to combine empathy with the ability to distance yourself from the emotion of a case. That professional distance is key; if you get too involved in the issues, you will not survive. It is also really important to develop good business skills to continue to practise; there is a lot to get involved with at a law firm that is entirely separate from the cases themselves.”

In Anna’s view, a big challenge facing the profession at the moment is that the fact that legislation has been slow to catch up with the reality of modern family arrangements: “A key issue relates to cohabitee rights – the law is far behind the changes in family relationships, in that where parties choose to cohabit, they currently have very limited rights if their relationships break down. There is also a suggestion that the law on divorce should change to remove the need to assign blame.”

As regards to divorce finances, Anna hopes that a campaign to clarify the existing regime is successful: “It is currently very complicated, which means that the likely outcome of a case is hard to predict for client and lawyer alike. That can put pressure on parties to settle for commercial and tactical reasons, rather than in the interests of what’s right.”

Keeping on top of the evolving law, as well as more general professional development, is a daily commitment, says Anna: “You do have to make sure that you undertake a certain amount of training each year, although there have recently been changes to those requirements to allow for greater flexibility in how you go about it. It is also necessary to keep up with changing case law and statutory provisions, as well as the many precedents and periodicals to read and absorb. You need to make sure that you’re doing it every day, and it’s very much an ongoing process.”

Grab your chances

For budding family lawyers, Anna stresses the importance of work experience and seizing the opportunity to get stuck in: “If you can get a placement, then do it. Anything you can do to get experience – be that at a law firm, at court, or at a local authority – will be valuable. It will give you a good sense of what area of law might be for you and will equip you with relevant skills in advance of your training contract. It also gives you a feel for what you need to do in terms of keeping up to date with the news and legal press. That will help with your understanding of the law, but also of the business world.” And while there, throw yourself into the experience wholeheartedly she advises: “Be ready to work very hard and to promote yourself – make yourself an asset to your firm. As the saying goes, the more you put into it, the more you will get out!” 

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